The One Quality You Absolutely Need to Be Successful

How important is self-awareness when it comes to being successful? originally appeared on Quorathe knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Ryan Holiday, bestselling author of Ego Is the Enemy and media columnist, on Quora:

Self-awareness is absolutely essential in all our endeavors. In Ego is the Enemy, I looked at individuals like William Tecumseh Sherman, Katharine Graham, Jackie Robinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Walsh, Benjamin Franklin, Belisarius, Angela Merkel, and George C. Marshall. Could they have accomplished what they accomplished–saving faltering companies, advancing the art of war, integrating baseball, revolutionizing football offense, standing up to tyranny, bravely bearing misfortune–if ego had left them ungrounded and self-absorbed? It was their sense of reality and awareness–one that the author and strategist Robert Greene once said we must take to like a spider in its web–that was at the core of their great art, great writing, great design, great business, great marketing, and great leadership.

They all made tons of mistakes. But they learned from them–they listened to the feedback of the world (even if that message was only that they were not infallible and that things would not always go their way.) They found that self-awareness was the way out and through–if they hadn’t, they wouldn’t have gotten better and they wouldn’t have been able to rise again.

One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability–and to look at themselves honestly and objectively– is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible. It is certainly more pleasurable to focus on our talents and strengths, but where does that get us? Arrogance and self-absorption inhibit growth. Detachment is a sort of natural ego antidote. It’s easy to be emotionally invested and infatuated with your own work. Any and every narcissist can do that.

What I have found with the successful people I have worked with is that they are focused much more on the work than on themselves, at least early on. It’s only when success comes and you have people whispering in your ear how great you are, that that awareness begins to fade. When it does, these people begin to risk all they things they worked so hard to build. They make enemies. They made bad decisions. They overestimate the response of the market. They look at negative press and think ‘Oh no one believes that anyway.’ They lose sight of the needs of their employees.

Self-awareness and humility is what usually builds great companies. It’s ego that undermines and destroys them. And this happens every single damn time, sucking us down, as Cyril Connolly put it, “like the law of gravity.”

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